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Brussels terror attack resonates with Virginians with Belgium ties

Posted at 7:26 PM, Mar 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 07:35:26-04

RICHMOND, Va -- As the Brussels terror attacks unfolded, two Virginians felt a direct connection to the areas under siege for two very different reasons.

Kim Hart, who lives in Leesburg, Virginia, was recently on a European spring break vacation with her family. They were visiting friends, who live in Brussels, Sunday, and ate dinner at a restaurant down the street from where ISIS attacked a metro station Tuesday.

"Just a tad bit real; it's a little scary," said Hart, who is safe in Paris with her family. "We were supposed to take the train to Brussels and decided to drive instead. It would have been a day apart, but there is the sense of 'wow, that could have been me.'"

Stephanie Danis

Stephanie Danis

Hart said she and her family are going to continue on with their vacation while keeping a watchful eye on their surroundings.

Richmond restaurant owner Stephanie Danis woke up Tuesday to a phone filled with text messages. Danis grew up just outside of Brussels.  She is the co-owner of Brux'l Cafe on W. Main Street.

"You think about your friends, your family, your co-workers.  You're thinking 'oh, I hope everybody is okay,'" said Danis.

Danis said it was difficult to see the city of her childhood, a city filled with culture and history, under attack by a terrorist group. She said she was comforted by the fact everyone she knows in Brussels was safe and the flood of support she has gotten from friends and customers in Richmond.

"Very nice to see people so touched by what happened in my country," said Danis.

Belgian authorities have been on high alert since the terror attacks in Paris. Dr. Thomas Badey, a professor at Randolph Macon who studies terrorist threats and international security, said the Brussels attacks show ISIS continues to go after "soft targets" even in tightly secured locations.

"It's simply impossible to protect everything, particularly entry areas at an airport unless you check people outside the airport," said Dr. Badey.

Badey said there are various reasons attacks like the one in Brussels are less likely on U.S. soil. He added that ISIS seemed to think their Belgian operations were threatened by the arrest of one of the Paris attackers in Brussels on Friday.

"They may had been in a situation where they planned an attack down the road, but with the arrest of [Salah] Abdeslam, they had to do what they did now and use the resources that they had," he said.